I am using the example of the song "More Than Words" by Extreme to illustrate my question.

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I see both the chords C and Cm being used in the same line (line 9). I was unaware of the theory behind this. I have come across a "Picardy Third" in some music before, and that concept somewhat makes sense to me. But I don't think a "Picardy Third" applies here, or maybe I just can't see it.

In addition to this usage of the IV and iv chord, the song also uses the chords G and G7. This usage of both the I and I7 chords doesn't make sense to me either, because the key of the song looks to be in G.

I would appreciate it if anyone can explain this to me.

  • 2
    Picardy third has nothing to do with this - it's a device used to finish a piece that's in a minor key with a tonic major harmony.
    – Tim
    Jul 27 '17 at 10:13
  • Yeah, you'd need to intepret it that the entire piece is in G-minor and then say that almost every single chord (save the Cm) uses a Picardy third. That would be silly. Picardy third really is generally only used for the final chord in a piece or at least in a phrase. Jul 27 '17 at 10:17
  • I think these chords show why the group called themselves "Extreme". just kidding... The best pop music breaks with conventions in new ways.
    – mcdtracy
    Jul 27 '17 at 13:50
  • FWIW An actual example of unconventional abuse of minor and major chords might be found in the Guns and Roses song, "Patience". I am pretty sure at one point they have a major and minor chord with the same root being played simultaneously on two different guitars. Or maybe just a 12 string that was tuned after a few too many drinks. Jul 27 '17 at 15:40

These are basic examples of the two main sources (at least in popular music) of chords outside the key:

  1. borrowing from the parallel minor: the Cm chord is borrowed from the key of G minor. This is also discussed in the answers to this question. The general concept of borrowing chords from another mode (with the same root) is called modal interchange.

  2. secondary dominants: the G7 is a secondary dominant leading to the C chord (which is of course inside the key of G). You can find more information on secondary dominants in the answers to this question.

The progression IV-iv-I is very common in many styles of music (here: C-Cm-G). Note the voice leading: the note E (major third of C) goes to Eb (minor third of Cm), and finally resolves to D (fifth of G major).

  • 1
    I wouldn't interpret the Cm as borrowed from the key of Gm. Tim's interpretation that it's a hybrid of C (without the third) and D⁷♭₉ (without the root and fifth) is more convincing IMO. At any rate, the E♭-D leading tone is the important thing about this progression. Jul 27 '17 at 10:13
  • @leftaroundabout: It's indeed all about the descending line E-Eb-D. Interpreting the C minor chord as a hybrid of a C power chord and a D7b9 (no root, no fifth, no third!) is indeed creative but seems a bit far-fetched for my taste. To my ears, the Cm chord has no dominant function, which would be the case if it were interpreted as a (mutilated) D7b9 chord.
    – Matt L.
    Jul 27 '17 at 10:22
  • True, the third isn't there either... which does make it a bit absurd to interpret it this way. Still, to my ear this chord sounds very determined to resolve to the tonic (and not, say, to the Ⅴ or ⅲ, which would also allow incorporating the E-E♭-D descend), i.e. there is a bit of a dominant function to it. It's just not as obvious as in D₇ because the Cm chord doesn't contain any actual dissonance in itself. Jul 27 '17 at 10:29

A few things to add to the existing answers:

  • This is not a Picardy third. A Picardy third is only found on a tonic-functioning chord and only when the underlying progression is minor.
  • The relationship of iv (and more specifically ivMiMaj7 and ivMi6 although occasionalmy ivMi7) to the major scale is a bit complicated, but it is almost certainly not derived from D7b9. The main reason for that is that it's suspended: C-G is a fifth, not a tritone. You could argue a connection to D7b9sus but b9sus is so obscure that it's hardly idiomatic, even in jazz. It's also subdominant functioning, not dominant. Yes, it has some dissonance to it, but I think there is a much more obvious connection to the (harmonic) minor scale. iv-I works a lot like iv-i and the relationship parallels iv-V7b9-i or ii-V7b9-i to their major counterparts. ivo7, on the other hand, does come from D7b9.

  • Very few chord borrowings are truly unconventional. In western harmony, literally every dominant chord, for example, has a named function in every key; in other words, given a key you can describe any dominant chord as being a primary dominant, a secondary dominant, or a tritone substitution of one of the two. Most other common chord substitions can be explained by modal interchange since the number of idiomatic scales in western music is very large and therefore so too is the inventory of chords. Having said THAT, there are a considerable number (a potentially limitless number, in fact) of progressions that are unconventional and cannot easily be explained. However, unconventional progressions are more likely than not to fall outside either the bounds of functional harmony or thoughtful composition.

  • I persist that the ⅳ Is not functioning as a subdominant. If it were, then it should be possible to follow it with a Ⅴ⁷-Ⅰ, but I can't make that to sound like a decent cadence except by introducing extra melodic lines that completely distract from the E♭. Instead, D⁷♭₉sus/C appears to be exactly what I really hear in that chord, in fact A feels a very natural melody note to put over it. Jul 27 '17 at 19:45
  • 2
    You can follow it with a D7 so long as the D7 is altered. The reason it doesn't sound too great is simply that iv-V7b9 has worse voice leading characteristics than its major counterpart, which is where bVI7-V7b9 comes from. At the end of the day, you're not going to substitute D7 with Cmi unless you're willing to seriously reduce the amount of tension generated. On the other hand, you're nearly always able to sub C with Cmi (in G) so long as there isn't an E somewhere else. Compare Cmi-D7b9-G and Cmi-Co7-G. A is natural simply because it turns Cmi into the same (subdominant functioning) Ami7b5
    – Fugu
    Jul 27 '17 at 20:57
  • @leftaroundabout, I have to agree 100% with Fugu. In a minor ii-V-i like Aø7-D7alt-Gmin, it's extremely common to voice the Aø7 using Cmin6 voicings. In a jazz setting, the two chords (Aø7 and Cmin6) are distinguishable only by the base note. They both have subdominant functions as Fugu states. Additionally, the present of a C in the bass strongly suggests Cmin as opposed to a D7b9sus4/C chord.
    – jdjazz
    Jul 28 '17 at 1:38
  • @jdjazz well, evidently our ears vary in perception. I understand how the progressions you talk about work, but to me they sound, well – very obviously Jazzy, with voices leading somewhere. Full Cm-D⁷♭₉-G does give clear resolutions, but builds up so much explicit dissonance in the process that it sounds rather overly dramatic. OTOH, what I like really a lot about Ⅰ-Ⅳ-ⅳ-Ⅰ is that it consists purely of triads which fit perfectly well in a folk sound, and yet gives a very clear leading effect. As I said, I find the ⅳ-I quite mandatory in that setting, in fact rather more determined than Ⅴ-Ⅰ. Jul 28 '17 at 8:06
  • 1
    What I'm arguing foremostly is that all these pop songs like More Than Words use the as a dominant. I don't say this out of any theoretical considerations as to which notes/intervals it contains, but out of the subjective observation that this chord can't be followed by anything but the without evoking a deceptive-cadence sensation; it thus dominates the resolution. That's what's matters; on what scale degree the chord's root lies isn't really important. (Conversely, Blues etc. routinely uses V⁷ in a non-dominant role, followed naturally by e.g. Ⅳ⁷.) Jul 28 '17 at 13:15

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